Revelation 2:12-17 – Pergamum

Who here this evening, has ever heard the term “worldliness?”  That is our consideration this evening.  From the outset, it must be said that worldliness for the Christian is NOT a good thing.  In his general letter to the churches, James has some unkind things to say about this friendship with the world.  In James 4:4, he says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  He likens it to adultery, which is a violation of the seventh commandment.  The Apostle Paul instructs “us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  In fact, we learn that in an expanded application of the Ten Commandments that putting anything as a higher priority than God Himself is a form of idolatry, and that’s a second commandment violation (also a first commandment violation). 

In the OT, in the days of the prophet Jeremiah, idolatry and syncretism were the very reasons for the loss of the entire nation of Israel to King Nebuchadnezzar and the forced captivity of most of the survivors.  Later in the book, we will look at one of those captives in detail named Daniel, who the Lord loved immensely and showed details of what would happen in the last days of earth before the return of the Messiah.  Hold that in the back of your mind as well, because we will have some things to say about the results of that.

This evening, we are paying a visit to the ancient political capital of Asia Minor, Pergamum.  The city still exists as the Turkish city of Bergama.  It even sounds like Pergamum, doesn’t it?  In ancient times, it was considered the most beautiful and royal city in Asia.  Robert Mounce quotes Roman author Pliny who said it “was by far the most distinguished city in Asia. (Mounce, Robert H., The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1977.)  Unlike our other cities that were on the coast of the Aegean, Pergamum was 15 miles from the coast.  It was built on a high rocky hill (about 330m) above the plains that surrounded it.  Being the defensible position, that is where the city was built.  According to 19th-century archaeologist Sir William Ramsey, it had the characteristics of a royal city, a seat of authority.  It had a library in the city that was second only to the library of Alexandria, and as such was a center of knowledge in the region. 

With that understood, it should come as no surprise that this was a city that was also known for medicine, and the physician Galen was born and studied in Pergamum.  Who was Galen?  Funny how no one ever remembers the number two doctor of all time.  The first of those was Hippocrates of the Hippocratic Oath fame.  Medicine might actually figure into this because of one of the temples that was featured in Pergamum, the temple of Asclepius, some kind of patron to medicine.  Temples of Athena, Zeus, and Dionysius also could be found there, but more importantly, Pergamum became the center in Asia Minor for Emperor worship.  We will say more about that momentarily also.

With that as a preface, let’s get into the text.  I divided the text into thought units as follows.  Yes, I know this is a fair bit of detail, but I will try to keep this brief.  Explanations of theological issues will be necessary in this evening’s study, on with the show.

KV16:  The One who executes judgment righteously

16:  Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

12:  The One with the Final Word

13:  The One who knows where you dwell

14-15:  The One who will cut away what does not belong

16:  The One who will make war against the unrepentant

17:  The promise of the One to the overcomer

This evening’s text, as we have already read, has a very different tone than the last two letters.  Ephesus had a warning to the church to be sure, and one that had consequences, but was mostly a warning only.  Smyrna, of course, which we studied last week, had no warnings, just strong encouragement to be faithful under the pressure of the times, no matter the cost, and I think they must have succeeded because there were no poor marks for Smyrna.

This marks the first letter with a warning of real and consequential judgment by the King, our Lord Jesus.  Let’s jump into the text.

KV16:  The One who executes judgment righteously

16:  Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

What we must remember here is that God can see your motivations, even though the rest of us cannot.  The proverbial wool cannot be pulled over His eyes like we can do with literally everyone else.  Our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One of God, God the Son, has the ability to see all of the thoughts and intents of our heart, even when we cannot, including our own thoughts and intents on occasion.  It is possible to hide things from even yourself.  Usually, that’s the only person you are fooling, but sometimes, you can shield your internal sin from outside eyes.  Because our Lord has that ability to see it all, He knows what your motive really is, for good or ill.  And those that are His, he won’t let them get away with illness of the soul.  Instead, the author of Hebrews says, “…MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”  The writer here is quoting the Old Testament, and I’ll give you the references, both of which approximate the words here.  Those are Job 5:17 and Pro. 3:11-12.  You can look those up at your leisure.  We need to respond in humble fashion when this happens.  For those that will not, God will oppose, because He opposes the proud (also from Jas 4:6).  For the humble, he will lift them up.

It must be said here that the choice is yours, with the warning of my key verse:  “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”  Don’t be a part of the “them” described here.  We will say more about that when we get there.  Let’s get into it.

12:  The One with the Final Word

Again, the Lord Jesus here uses one of the titles that He gave to John in this time in Rev 1:16.  He is the one that has the two-edged sword.  It is a metaphor of great strength, as the sword is coming out of His mouth.  What could this possibly mean?  Every commentator I examined without fail said that the two-edged sword represented the Word of God, and I agree with them.  It is very easy to demonstrate from the Scriptures.  Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The Greek word used here for the sword describes a great weapon with two edges.  The definition Vine gives is that of a Thracian weapon of great size, possibly a sword, or possibly a spear, which we would call a lance of sorts, but “sword” is the preferred translation.  Not really being a Greek nerd (yet), I don’t know why that is, but I will take Vine’s and Rogers & Rogers word for it (the lexicons I have access to).  Jesus is the one who has this sword.  Let’s look at the verse.

12:  And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:

  • Here we are, now looking at the text of the letter to the pastor of the church at Pergamum.  The word itself seems to refer to a height of land or elevation, so “elevated.”  It was at that time the former capital city of Asia Minor.  It was founded after the time of Alexander the Great, by one Emperor Attalus.  When the last emperor of Mysia died in 133 BC, that being Attalus III, he gave the city to the Roman Empire.  His son Aristonicus tried to seize it from the Romans but was defeated in 129 BC.  The Romans then formed the Roman State of Asia (we call it Asia Minor as opposed to the whole continent of Asia) and made Pergamum the capital.  The city itself was said to have been magnificent in those days.  There were many other attractions as well, but time will not permit.  If you want a decent source of historical information on Pergamum, I recommend the chapter in Dr. John MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary on Pergamum or the video commentary Dr. Chuck Missler did on Revelation.  Pergamum is the 4th episode of 24 I believe.  This was the setting of the letter.
  • Then the Lord gives a very unique title.  He is the One who has the sharp two-edged sword.  In the first chapter in verse 16, it is coming out of His mouth.  The Greek word is a form of rhomphaia, as I mentioned.  The two-edged sword here is the symbol of absolute authority.  The individual who holds such a sword holds absolute sway and control, and this is something that all God’s people should know.  God is the one in absolute control of everything.  We like to think we are in control, but that’s a fallacy.  Not one thing happens that God does not permit.  I am reminded of Job 1, where Satan has been trying and failing to pierce a hedge of protection that God placed around His servant Job.  God had to give His permission before Satan did anything to Job.  He may be bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and badder than we are as the devil, but he is still GOD’S devil.  If he is attacking you, it is because God gave him permission for His own purposes and glory, beloved.  We talked about this last week for Smyrna in passing.  I mention it again because it is important to know.  This doesn’t make us fatalists, by the way, and I will explain when we get to the specific concerns the Lord raises for Pergamum.
  • The two-edged sword specifically represents the Word of God.  We already saw Heb. 4:12, but look at John 1:1.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Now I am aware of a false religion that has its own badly rewritten version of the Bible that inserts an indefinite article in that verse, and I will take this opportunity to show you that is incorrect.  The Greek text itself reads, “Ēn archē ēn ho logos, kai ho logos ēn pros ton Theon, kai Theos ēn ho logos.”  I have looked at as many Greek texts as are available to me easily.  There is in fact an article there, and that’s bad news for those folks.  There is no indefinite article in Greek.  It is rather the definite article, the word “the,” not the word “a.”  That means that literally translates into English as follows:  “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and THAT God was the Word.”  Given that there is only a very small translation matrix for that sentence, my own translation is correct.  I may not be a Greek nerd yet, but I know a thing about the grammar here, and I know I’m right.  You can even ask my friend Chris Rosebrough who has a degree in biblical languages!  HE says I’m right!  The real question this introduces here is who this Word is about whom we speak!  Later in John 1 (14-18), it identifies the man as none other than our Lord Jesus Christ!  He is the One who has absolute authority and control.  Hold onto that, because we’re going to see why He brought a sword to His church in a bit.  For the moment, we’ll move on.

13:  The One who knows where you dwell

This One with absolute authority is here, and the first thing He says after identifying Himself to the pastor of that gathering is this:  “I know where you are.”  I believe this is meant as a comfort and not a challenge.  Let’s look at the verse and I will try to explain why.

13:  I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

  • As usual, there is a lot here, so we will take it one phrase at a time as our time will allow.  The first thing the Lord says is “I know where you dwell.”  He isn’t angrily screaming, “I know where you live!” He isn’t coming to do you harm, believer.  If that’s what you think, you have been poorly taught.  It is true that God is love.  The reason He says hard things is to correct us and cause us to turn to Him in our need.  He gets all the glory for this, we get none.  The point of a threatened judgment, and even of a real judgment, is to correct and turn you to Him in restored and repentant fellowship!  I agree, it isn’t pleasant, but consider the alternative.  Do that on your own until we come to that in a bit.  That word for “dwell” means a place where you have settled down to live long term, not just your physical location, although that is implied.  Just where is that place?
  • It is where Satan’s throne is.  If anything was going to do you harm, it would be him, but Christ isn’t concerned about that either.  Our Lord is simply stating a fact.  You’re deep in enemy territory.  I doubt He would allow that if He was able to meet your needs there or protect you or gain glory from that.  How do I know that?  Look at the last place.  He says this in my opinion with more than a bit of affection for you.  “And you hold fast My name!”  I know where you’re settled down and dug in!  You’re right in the middle of the enemy’s capital city, and a perfect needle for him, by the way.  And even in that horrible and dark place, you hold onto me.  You give testimony to me!  This living arrangement has even had consequences.
  • “You did not deny My faith,” even when they put Christ’s servant Antipas to death.  We don’t know a lot about Antipas outside of this text, but one of the references I found online said that he was the first believer put to death by the Roman state of Asia.  I don’t know how true that is, but there is some proof that the Lord loved Antipas, and also loves all of His people.  Our Lord remembers His name…publicly and in the Word of God itself.  He calls him “My witness, My faithful one.”  When I first looked this up, it dawned on me what that means.  The Lord Jesus is saying, “Antipas is MINE.”  Beloved, if only that could be true of us!  It can be, and if you truly follow Him, it is!  Just be prepared.  Antipas was killed because he would not compromise his faith and tell the Roman Caesar that he was a god.  No man is, and any person who thinks they are a god is sadly and greatly deluded.  You will recall that John, the scribe for this letter was on Patmos because he wouldn’t compromise either.
  • Apart from emperor worship, there were other temples.  The largest was the Great Temple of Zeus.  Someone actually said that it was Zeus’ birthplace.  Athena had a temple.  Dionysius had a temple.  Asclepius had a temple.  It may be this or all of these things together that caused our Lord to call this place  the place “where Satan dwells.”  This is not unlike our own day, beloved.  We live in the capital of Canada.  There are many places of worship in the city where we dwell.  We do well to consider that when choosing where we worship.  I know things can change, I’ve seen that happen here, but we should always clear any moves we make with our Lord to make sure we dwell where He wants and not what is convenient for us.  Call that an application of sorts.  Let’s move on.

14-15:  The One who will cut away what does not belong

There is another reason our Lord is carrying His great sword.  It may be no coincidence that Asclepius the pagan deity had a place of worship in Pergamum.  Asclepius was the pagan god of medicine.  Galen, second only to Hippocrates was born and studied in Pergamum.  In AD 95 when John was writing this, there was still such a thing as a surgeon.  There were even Christian doctors.  Luke the Physician wrote at least two books (I think three possibly, though that is speculation) of the New Testament.  He wrote an account of the life of the Son of Man and an account of the Bride of the Son of Man (Acts).  I personally think he may have also written the book of Hebrews from a sermon he remembered Paul preaching.  Again, that’s speculation.  We don’t know the identity of the person who wrote the letter to the Hebrews.  But there were doctors, and doctors had to do an amount of cutting away of things that were dead on occasion.  Our Lord is skilled enough as the Great Physician to do it with a large sword as well as a scalpel.  The analogy I’m using works here.  Our Lord sees what needs to be cut away, and knows how to do it without killing the patient.  Let’s see what the Lord says.

14:  But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

  • Now there is more to the criticism that the Lord addresses than is in this verse, but we’ll talk about that when we get there.  For now, we need to look at who Balaam and Balak were, because this is where the Old Testament comes into this study in a big way.
  • Balaam was a Gentile “Prophet for Hire” if you will.  God did have gentile priests and prophets in the Old Testament.  Another example of one of these is Melchizedek, who of all things served bread and wine in a covenant celebration of worship to God.  Interestingly, his name translates to “king of righteousness,” and he was king of the city-state of Salem.  He was literally the king of peace!  Talk about typology!  And he had bread and wine!  He’s mentioned in Hebrews, too.  But Balaam was one of these guys apparently.  He spoke to God, and God spoke to him.  We find Balaam being engaged in Numbers 22 by King Balak of the Moabites to curse the people of Israel because Balak saw what they did to the Amorites in Numbers 21.  Verses 7-14 tell the story of the first encounter of the messengers from Balak’s court, in which the Lord told Balaam not to go with them, and he did not.  The idea is that if God won’t curse somebody, neither should His servants.  The problem arose when Balak wouldn’t take that initial “no” for an answer.  There is even a type of ME in Numbers 21:28a!  “And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey!”  Every time I speak, you hear it!  And the donkey is more moral than I, smarter, and probably a better expositor!  The short version of the rest of the story is that Balaam was not able to speak a curse over the people of God.  So Balaam devised a plan whereby they would be caused to condemn themselves by uniting with the daughters of Moab.  They were enticed into compromise by the daughters of Moab into intermarriage.  And what happens in most cases is that the man will always try to give his wife what she wants.  These women led the men of Israel into the worship of the Baals, false pagan gods.  Numbers 25:1-3 says, “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel.” 
  • This becomes the area of the practical for the church when we mess with the clear order of worship of God in the church.  I have been in a so-called church at the funeral of a friend where they brought in First Nations people to burn sage and dance for the “Great Spirit.”  You who have known me for a while know that I have some Mohawk ancestry.  I’m either a quarter or an eighth Mohawk, depending on what my dad was.  The point is that Manitou is not “the First Nations word for God.”  Manitou is a false pagan God in most circumstances today.  It is the animistic paganism of the new world instead of the ancient paganism of the old world.  The names are different, but the principle is the same.  Bringing in celebrations and ceremonies from other religions into the Christian church has a theological term, beloved!  We call it syncretism, and it is THE reason for the Jews in Jeremiah’s day going into Babylonian captivity for 70 years!  The temple was looted and destroyed by fire, and then the entire city of Jerusalem was destroyed and its walls were pulled down by the conquerors.  Syncretism did that.  And if that was all there was to this it would be bad enough.  There’s more.

15:  So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

  • Okay, this is even worse, because it shows the progression of how false doctrine develops over time.  We have run into the followers of Nicolas before in Ephesus.  Verse 6 of this chapter says this:  “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”  Here it isn’t just the deeds, it has become doctrine or teaching.  The Greek word used here is didachēn, or teaching.  It can be translated (and is in KJV and others if I recall this properly) as “doctrine.”  Doings become doctrine, Beloved.  There is a reason we do things as we do, and I can point to Scripture verses for all of it. 
  • Maybe some of you remember a sermon from before the pandemic that another pastor preached here.  The first line of that sermon was, “Have you ever felt the need to cross yourself?”  [explain and demonstrate Roman Catholic genuflection]  I was sitting in the front row, and I couldn’t believe my ears.  Involuntarily, I blurted out, “No…” and I was apparently not the only one who had that opinion.  I heard two other voices say exactly the same thing at the same time in the same tone.  Beloved, that sermon was a hot mess.  I got the intended point because I knew what the man was trying to say, but it was utter skubalon on the topic of Christian symbolism.  Roman Catholic genuflection is not a Christian activity.  It is like invoking a protection of some kind.  Even when used symbolically, the meaning is usually backwards.  They use it as some kind of prayer of blessing or protection.  Rather than an identification with the cross of Jesus on which He died.  Think about it for a moment.  At the Last Supper before His crucifixion, did Christ say, “Genuflect in remembrance of Me?”  No!  He did NOT!  Did He say, “This is a symbol to invoke my protection and blessing on yourself.  Do this to remember Me.”  Again, no, He did NOT!  He talked very specifically and clearly about taking the bread and then the cup of wine, carefully explaining to His chosen followers what that symbolism meant.  We don’t get to make garbage up or borrow it from elsewhere and integrate it into Christianity!  That’s Syncretism!
  • We’ve already spoken about the etymology and construction of “Nicolaitans,” but as a refresher, and because I’m setting something up for our study of the next letter, I will remind you that this is a compound Greek term.  Nikos means to conquer.  Laos refers to the people in general.  Thus, to conquer the people.  I don’t know if that is what was intended by Nicolas, but if you want to talk about syncretism with Christianity, he was apparently your guy.  Nicolas was one of the seven original men chosen as deacons in the church in Acts 6:3-6.  “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.”  Clearly, Nicolas was ordained as a deacon by the Apostles, it says so right here.  But in looking at the man, we can get a view of how the enemy puts in plants that later will upset the applecart, figuratively speaking.
  • Nicolas was a proselyte from Antioch.  This phrase gives us all kinds of information.  He was not born a Jew but rather was a Gentile who was from the area of Antioch.  Antioch was known as a pagan area, so Nicolas would have to have changed his core belief system from paganism to Judaism.  This meant a bunch of things, including taking up the dietary requirements of the Pharisees, ritual washings, the readings of the Scriptures (the OT), and circumcision.  As an adult!  Ouch.  Every guy should wince at that a little bit.  Then Christ dies, rises, and the Holy Spirit comes 50 days later.  At some point, he joins the believers and changes his core belief systems a second time and calls himself a follower of the way of Yeshua.  He does well at it, and he is picked and ordained to serve to deliver food to people on behalf of the church.  We assume he did a decent job, and there is nothing in the record to say he did not.
  • Irenaeus and Hippolytus both give us some of the details of what happened concerning Him, and I believe both of them call him the “spiritual father” of those who became known as the Nicolaitans.  Irenaeus refers to him in Book 1 of Against Heresies in section 352 paragraph 3.  Apparently, these were men of “unrestrained indulgence.”  I find it interesting that many of the heresies we encounter today begin with the phrase “I want.”  Then they begin to find or make doctrinal reasons to justify the pursuit of their pleasure.  This gives rise in my opinion to a kind of man who will seek the authority of oversight so that they can set up a kind of feedback loop in what we in biology call a closed system.  That itself has many features, like the echo chamber of reinforcing one’s own belief system when it is constructed, but the real issue here is that they have the authority to close down the transparent nature of the real church so that they can live their lives in secret while bilking the actual believers of their money for their “good causes” like “missionary work.”  They had no problem at all telling lies to gain the money for their orgies while eating meat they knew was clearly sacrificed to false gods or idols.  This would lead them into becoming a class of “priest” intercessor that had to do the work of Christ for the people, as opposed to the clear teaching of Christ that every person is responsible to repent and walk with Christ for themselves.  This led in history to heresies like sacerdotalism and even antinomianism, though that is always present in most heresies.  Sacerdotalism is the false theological position that a “priest” of sorts must as an intercessor make “sacred offerings” to appease a wrathful god.  The word itself comes from the Latin sacerdos, or “one who makes sacred offerings.” This is clearly NOT what the scriptures say.  See what Paul has to say in 1 Tim. 2:5–“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”  Christ is our mediator, not some guy in a sort of uniform calling himself a priest.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it is my opinion that the church in Thyatira had this issue and was a direct result of the heresy of Pergamum left unchecked.  That isn’t a curve I want to be ahead of.  That’s the teaching or doctrine of the Nicolaitans. 

It seems to be resolving into a pattern, doesn’t it.  That isn’t a question.  If you will not deal with sin in your midst, things will get worse for your entire gathering.  Doing this can make you weary, and can even make things become dead ritual as you begin to do things by rote without acknowledging the symbolism behind what we do and we forget that it in some way all relates to Christ.  Do you want an example?  Here is a friendly one.  There is a REASON the garb of a pastor in the pulpit should be dark clothing.  HE isn’t the one you should be seeing, and in the dark caves we used to have to meet in, it made him difficult to see.  Instead, his words were to be from Christ as he accurately handled the Word of Truth for the congregation.  The white collar is intended to represent the pastor’s slave collar to Christ.  Paul called himself doulou Iesou Christou, or “slave of Jesus Christ.”  Are we not all slaves of Christ?  That’s an example where symbolism is used to convey meaning to the congregation and give the focus to Christ.  But I take it you can see where misapplied symbolism can get into all kinds of weirdness.  I’ll leave that here, we can discuss individual things afterward or the viewers can leave comments below the video or email me.

You can see here why the Lord saw something so serious that He in his divine authority was ready with His great sword to judge them!  We will see that come out in the next verse.

16:  The One who will make war against the unrepentant

Someone here will undoubtedly point out that the Lord Jesus is addressing a church, and they would be right to remember and point that out.  Why would the King of the church go to war against the church?  Well, I don’t think that’s exactly what is happening here, and we need to see that.  Let’s read the verse.

16:  Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

  • There is a point I will get to in a moment that will show that this isn’t necessarily ALL of the church that the Lord will make war with, but before we get to that, our Lord Jesus has given us the solution for when we find we have been taken off track by these heresies or heretics.  It is to repent.  Change your mind after the Lord brings it to your attention!  Admit that it is sin, to God certainly, and perhaps to yourself for the first time.  Such admonitions are always to cause you to turn away from certain death from sin and toward our Living Saviour Jesus Christ!  So turn!  Don’t wait, none of us knows when our lives will end.  I could drop dead from a heart attack right here and now.  I’d rather not, but if that is what God wants, that is what will happen, and there are worse ways of getting to see the Lord I can think of.  And if we WILL not, well, there is another alternative.
  • I didn’t say it was a good alternative.  If we WILL not turn because of hubris or any other reason we find to disobey His command to repent, then He will come for us, and that speedily, and that’s the sense I get from the Greek.  There is an urgency to this instruction, Beloved.  And what will He do?  He will make war with “them” with the sword of His mouth.  Who does “them” refer to?  This is a case where context must inform the meaning.  In the context of the passage, the Lord will make war with His Word with the heretics and false teachers who hold the doctrines of Balaam and those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans, which we have just discussed in some detail.  If you hold to false teaching, repent.  If you WILL not repent, then ready your defences, here He comes, and He will judge you, not me.  You would rather I did.  But that isn’t my job.  My job is to warn you.
  • This requires some people skills to pull off, I might add.  Here is what I think, for what that may be worth.  Do NOT make up things to accuse people of harsh things or malfeasance.  Do not say nothing when false teaching arises.  Stand in the grace of Christ.  And if nobody is certain, then get out the Word and cordially discuss things, don’t just fly off the handle because son and so said something you didn’t agree with.  Do the research, do the reading, do the work, and get your facts straight before attacking.  Then go and talk with your brother.  If your brother hears you, the problem is resolved.  If not, go to him again with witnesses.  If he still won’t hear, then hold a congregational meeting to address it.  That’s Matthew 18 discipline in an applied nutshell. 

The point is here that we need to be careful readers of Scripture.  The Lord Jesus will never go to war against His Beloved Bride.  He will go to war with those hangers-on trying to steal His Beloved away.  I can tell you what would happen if you tried to harm MY bride.  I’m pretty sure you all get the concept.  They wouldn’t have a legal leg left to stand with, and it might be worse depending on the kind of harm attempted.  I am a believer in proportional response.  But that’s me.  We need to move on.

17:  The promise of the One to the overcomer

For those who overcome the false teaching and walk with the Saviour in the Spirit that He provides (the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead), There is an amazing promise.

17:  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

  • First, there is the usual line that identifies the personal and homiletic applications of the passage.  “He who has an ear, let him hear…”. This is addressed to all on an individual level.  For all those who want to hear, pay attention, listen up, here comes the good stuff.  This is meant for each individual overcomer.  I should say a word about the “overcomer,” since we see it in every letter to every church.  The word used here is a form of nikao, the verb form of nikos.  It means the conqueror.  Who is that?  Ultimately it is Christ, but it is all those who follow Him at His saving call to justification in Him because of His sanctifying sacrifice that both atoned for all our sins and expunged (wiped clean) our record before God.  These are the ones that God wrote down in a special book called “The Lamb’s Book of Life” before the foundation of the world.  It is the true list of real believers who kept the testimony of Jesus, did not love their lives even when it cost those very lives, and to whom He gave eternal life even as He has life.  If you have really believed, that’s you, Beloved.  You have conquered in His name and strength all of your sins and are His now and forever.  YOU are the overcomer, saint!  YOU.  All because of Him.  2 Cor. 5:21 says that He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Hallelujah!
  • We must also know that there is an application beyond just what it means for us.  For those that have those hearing ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  That’s PLURAL.  This also has a homiletic application for all congregations.  Each gathering, a model of that corporate body of Christ, of whom He is the Head in all things, must stand in the truth of His Word as well.    There is a collective responsibility we have to each other to help out others in the same gathering.  The gathering has leadership, and that leadership must also stand for the congregation as a whole.
  • So what is the promise of Christ to those who are His for standing in His name?  Well, first, He will give us some of the “hidden manna.”  What is that?  Well, it’s a Hebrew word that means, “What is it?”  God told Moses, and he told the people that it was literally the bread that came from heaven.  It fed the people of God for 40 years in the desert.  It has a New Testament equivalent, by the way, and I think some of you know already, but I’ll tell you now.  John 6:35 says, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”  King Jesus will give us some of Himself.  What exactly that means, I am not sure, but we will find out when our life here is over and we enter eternity.  I do know this, however.  If it comes from Jesus and is some of Himself, it cannot be a bad thing.  That would be amazing if it stopped there, but there is more!
  • I will give him a white stone.  The white stove is the ancient Greek and Roman equivalent of our modern Olympic Gold Medal.  The winner received a crown of victory (stephanos) and a white stone on which they engraved the name of the winner.  It was then and I suspect will be here a public recognition of how you are His and will be a tribute to all our cooperation during the sanctifying pressure we live under here and now.  He will award us because we yielded to Him in the place where it made a difference.
  • A NEW name will be written on that stone, Beloved.  Only the one who receives that stone will know the name written there.  It is my considered opinion that this is the very name that the Lord will have written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the world began.  I admit that’s speculation, but it is an intriguing thought.  Don’t ask me what my name will be, I don’t know what it is yet!  That name may in fact be presented to us on that stone at the Bema Seat judgment seat of Christ, but again, that is more speculation.

This letter to the pastor of the church at Pergamum must have made that man sit down hard and think for a long time.  It made ME do that, and I’m just a reader of the letter.  For those who will encourage union with the world, this is incredibly bad news.  The Lord Jesus says that He will make war with the sword that comes out of His mouth against them.  His Word will be spoken against them in public and private places, authoritatively, consistently, and lovingly.  And if they will not turn, then it is up to us to be faithful and stand for the Lord’s truth and put these false teachers out from our midst, warning them in the name of Christ what is coming their way if they will not repent, change their mind in a way that will drive them to change their lives as a response to that change of mind.

It must be noted that there are people who try to meld Christianity with the world in every New Testament gathering today.  Some handle it better than others, and some need to handle less than others.  I think I am where I am because of my past inability to avoid compromise.  I know some of the reasons for my own moral weakness, but I also know that these are reasons and not excuses.  To be the kind of overcomer that the Lord Jesus talks about, I have to walk in repentance and faith.  I must keep a constant self-examination open and when I see something that does not line up with Scripture, I must repent.  I must obey His command to do so.  If I do not, then I deserve everything that the Lord says He will do to those who do NOT overcome.  If there is an application there for me, knowing who I am, I must keep short accounts with the Lord.  I must turn as soon as I know turning is required, and then I must commit to not doing that again.  I invite you to do this for yourself at the same time I do it.  We can talk about it if you wish, but you do not have to.  He knows, and sometimes that is enough. 

Sometimes, you need the help of your church leadership.  That is not a title or even a position, it is a job description, Beloved, and one that those of us who the Lord has placed in that position MUST take seriously.  Where a brother or sister is departing from the fold, we must know the reason why and work against it for reconciliation in Christ.  If it is not possible, so be it, but we have to try.  Where a false teacher comes knocking at the door, we must don the Armour that God has given us and fight, exposing the false teaching, naming the false teacher, and then marking him or her publicly for avoidance by the flock.  If anyone tells you otherwise, ask them to show that to you from the Scriptures.  Push them to show you ACTUAL verses.  And be prepared to shine the light of Scripture on the topic to them yourselves if need be, and it probably will be needed.

This letter to Pergamum shows the Word of God Himself as the sharp two-edged weapon of war that MUST be employed, and He is the only one that can deploy it properly, so walk in the Spirit He gave you, in the life that He gave you, in the works that He gave you and work the works of God by faith in Him.

That’s what I saw in the text. 

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